NAPA – Art on First, a project meant to draw visitors with displays of local art work, kicked off last week and will run through the rest of the year.

Numerous hotels and storefronts, along with the tourism improvement district and The Arts Council Napa Valley, are presenting the program as a means to keep downtown Napa and surrounding areas a tourist attraction, with activities that will draw more visitors to the city itself.

The project comes as the Napa Valley Destination Council and its visitor’s center are planning a new facility in the Riverfront. The center drew approximately 142,000 visitors in 2009, according to the destination council.

The new center is slated to be open by late March, said Allison Simpson, vice president of communications for the destination council.

“Art on First will bring excitement to First Street,” said Sara Brooks, general manager of Napa River Inn and Historic Napa Mill. “We, along with the rest of the city, are ready to embrace this concept and hope that many will come downtown to enjoy the art, the restaurants and everything else that downtown Napa has to offer.”

Gordon Huether, owner of a gallery on First Street and a studio on Monticello Road that both bear his name, is credited with the conception of Art on First. One of the revitalization effort’s founders, Mr. Huether led the way with his own installation display downtown.

Since then, 19 Bay Area artists have been selected to create installations that will fill storefront windows along First Street for the rest of the year.

Art on First is a result of the destination council’s successful effort to implement a tourism improvement district, which was approved by the Napa County Board of Supervisors last summer. The improvement district levies a 2 percent assessment on visitor’s hotel rooms, with the money then going toward the county’s efforts to promote itself. The cities of American Canyon, Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville each receive a share of the funds generated to promote themselves.

The assessment is expected to raise as much as $4 million annually for the county. Napa stands to generate approximately $300,000 this year, according to the destination council.

Those funds should help downtown remain a vibrant attraction, according to the destination council. Downtown Napa has struggled to keep pace with other areas of the city as a tourist attraction.

“It isn’t that it was overlooked, but the resurgence didn’t happen at the same pace,” said the destination council’s Ms. Simpson.